By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
RICHMOND, Jan. 7 -- Del. Robert G. Marshall of Prince William County announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate on Monday, setting up a GOP nomination fight for the seat held by Sen. John W. Warner, who is retiring.
Marshall, known for his conservative views on social issues and taxes, will battle former Virginia governor James S. Gilmore III for the nomination. GOP activists will meet in late May or early June to select their nominee to run against former governor Mark R. Warner, who so far is the only announced Democratic candidate.
At a news conference at the state Capitol, Marshall said he wants to restore respect for traditional marriage, close the federal deficit, end the U.S. occupation of Iraq and keep taxes low.
But Marshall said his fervent opposition to abortion is the main reason he decided to take on Gilmore, who supports the right to have an abortion during the first eight weeks of pregnancy.
"I am the only candidate in this race that will protect, and have a record of protecting, the right to life for unborn children," said Marshall, who was joined by his wife, Cathy, and two of his sons.
Ana Gamonal, Gilmore's communications director, brushed off Marshall's candidacy, saying the former governor remains focused on a general election matchup with Warner.
"We do anticipate that governor Gilmore will be the party nominee," Gamonal said. "Our focus here at headquarters is defeating Mark Warner."
Marshall, who has never run for statewide office, concedes he has an uphill fight to defeat the better-known and better-financed Gilmore.
But several Republicans warned that Marshall, 53, should not be underestimated, because social conservatives are a major force in the Virginia Republican Party.
Marshall, who home-schooled his five children, says he will be able to tap into a statewide network of parents who also home-schooled their children.
In addition, Marshall could benefit from lingering doubts among many GOP leaders about whether Gilmore is the party's strongest candidate against Warner.
In his speech announcing his candidacy, Marshall said GOP activists asked him to run "because they want someone who will represent their views and values" and a candidate who "will stand on principle."
Because the Republican State Central Committee decided in October to hold a convention instead of a primary, about 10,000 party activists will chose the nominee.
"If he activates people at the grass roots, he will win," Patrick McSweeney, an anti-tax activist and former chairman of the state party, said of Marshall, whom he supports.
State Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II (R-Fairfax), who also supports Marshall, said the delegate's entry into the race creates a "whole different ballgame" for Gilmore.
"Bob thinks life begins at conception, and as I understand Jim Gilmore's position, he is unwilling to protect unborn children until 60 or 90 days," Cuccinelli said.
Gamonal countered that Gilmore was one of the "most proactive pro-life governors in history." As governor, Gilmore fought for a late-term abortion ban, 24-hour waiting periods and parental notification laws, she said.
"The alternative is Mark Warner, who is pro-abortion," Gamonal said.
Some Republicans argue that Marshall, who tried unsuccessfully to unseat House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) recently, is too polarizing to win the nomination.
A former Democrat, Marshall was elected to the House in 1991. He is an outspoken critic of tax increases, including the recently approved regional taxing authorities in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.
Marshall has also earned headlines for his conservative views on social issues, including efforts to restrict the availability of contraception. The constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions, which voters approved in 2006, is named for him and the Senate sponsor, Stephen D. Newman (R-Lynchburg).
Last year, Marshall introduced a bill to expand the definition of adultery to include sexual acts besides intercourse.
But Marshall isn't easy to define. He earns high ratings from environmental groups because of his efforts to control suburban sprawl.
In his reelection bid last year, Marshall won with 57 percent of the vote, even though some Democrats thought he would be vulnerable.
"I come from a Democratic background where our first goal was talk to your friends, get your neighbors interested and go door-to-door," said Marshall.